With over half of all Australian mothers active in the workforce, childcare providers have never been more popular.

Returning to work is just one of the many reasons to enrol a baby or child into a childcare service. Whatever your reason, most parents will agree those early days of childcare are some of the hardest you will face.

When you first leave your child, anxiety, worry and guilt are typical emotions as you drive away from your childcare provider.

Even the lead up to that first day of childcare is challenging. How can you prepare yourself and your child for their first day to ease those feelings of stress and worry?

Vacancy.Care knows just how hard it is for parents to leave their infant with a childcare provider in those early days. It is not just the emotional toll and stress of leaving them, but the logistical considerations too.

What does a parent have to do to get organised? How does a breastfeeding mother feed their child while they are at childcare? What if the baby won’t take a bottle?

In this article, we take a look at what parents can do to prepare themselves and their baby for those first days at childcare.

Preparing infant for daycare

Preparing an infant for daycare is challenging, particularly if the child has not spent much time away from mum or dad. It is hard for a parent to walk away and leave them with someone they don’t know well, and usually stressful for the baby.

However, there are plenty of ways parents can prepare their baby for those first few weeks at daycare. This helps to reduce anxiety and stress for parents and children.

Firstly, it is important for parents to choose a quality childcare provider that they are comfortable leaving their child at.

Parents will need to take the time to explore a potential childcare centre prior to enrolment.

Before enrolment, parents should:

  • Make sure the centre meets essential needs such as location, cost and quality.
  • Visit the centre for a tour before enrolment. Remember to ask lots of questions and be on the lookout for potential issues.
  • Ask plenty of follow up questions if required.
  • Be 100% comfortable that this is the right centre or provider for them and their child.

Once enrolment is complete, it is time to start preparing for the first day of care.

Before the first full day, parents should:

  • Read all available information provided from the centre.
  • Ask the centre further questions if unsure about anything.
  • Take baby to a parent-baby play group or mother’s group. This provides an opportunity to socialise and play with other children.
  • Leave baby with a family member or friend for a short time (if possible) especially if they have not been with anyone else for extended periods of time. This will help them understand mum or dad will return after leaving.
  • Think about feeding options: if baby is exclusively breastfed, it may not be convenient to pop in to the childcare centre to feed baby, so mums may have to consider an alternative, such as expressed milk or formula.
  • Offer baby a bottle or cup of breastmilk if they are exclusively breastfed. It may take time and experimenting with different brands.
  • Try and stick to a routine for the weeks leading up to starting childcare. This will provide baby with familiarity away from home.
  • Give baby a special toy or comforter they can take to childcare, which is another way to provide them with some familiarity.
  • Express extra breastmilk and freeze if needed.
  • Wash bottles.
  • Label everything!
  • Agree on a time to come in for a ‘settling-in’ period.

A settling-in period, sometimes called an orientation, before the first full day is an ideal way to prepare for childcare.

During this time, parents are welcome to join their child for an hour or two at the centre. They can stay for the whole time, or go to another part of the centre for a few minutes to see how the child settles.

A top quality childcare centre will welcome parents and their children to several settling-in periods before they are ready to start a full day.

For the first few full days of care, mums or dads may have to stay a while to help their child settle in. This is perfectly normal and acceptable.

Once parents are comfortable with the centre and the idea of leaving their baby there, they can prepare for the first full day.

To prepare for the first day of care, parents should:

  • Pack baby’s daycare bag the night before. A well-stocked baby bag includes more than one change of clothes, nappies, sunscreen, comforter, dummies and any other items to take for the first day.
  • Prepare bottles the night before, including sterilising and labelling.
  • Try not to make work commitments or other plans if possible, just in case childcare staff cannot settle baby.

Preparing bottles for daycare

Before the age of 12 months, babies primarily rely on breastmilk or formula for food. This means babies under one will need to be fed milk while at childcare.

Breastfeeding mothers are welcome to stop by the centre to breastfeed a baby, otherwise parents can prepare bottles for daycare.

As mentioned, parents who want to bottle feed need to start offering their baby a bottle or cup before going to childcare. Here are some tips for this:

  • Get someone other than mum to feed the baby, such as dad, grandparents, etc.
  • Use expressed breast milk in the bottle, as opposed to formula, even if this marks the start of weaning off breast milk.
  • Experiment with a variety of bottles to see which one the baby will take.
  • Try breast milk mixed with formula. This is a method that weaning mothers often use when trying to get a child to take the bottle.

Breast milk bottles for daycare

Breastfeeding mums need to provide breast milk bottles for daycare for their baby. While mums are welcome to feed their baby at the childcare centre, this is not always practical, especially for mums who have returned to work.

It is a good idea for mums of breast and formula fed infants to start noting how much their child is eating during the day.

This is challenging for breastfeeding mums, but it will help the childcare provider understand baby’s feeding needs and will help avoid wasting precious expressed breastmilk!

Mums can express milk for a few days in the lead up to their baby going to childcare and keep the breastmilk in the fridge as per the storage guidelines in Table 1.

Expressing, storing and freezing the milk is another option. Freeze, store and take it out of the fridge 12-24 hours before baby heads off to childcare.

Some tips for storing expressed milk:

  • Use a breast milk storage bag to store milk. These are widely available at baby stores, pharmacies and some department stores.
  • Label the bag with the date.
  • Seal the bag properly.
  • Put the milk straight into the fridge if possible, or into an insulated bag with ice blocks.

Mums are also entitled to express while at work. It is illegal for an employer to refuse a breastfeeding mother the time or a private, comfortable space to express milk. No mother should be made to express breastmilk in the toilet or bathroom.

Keep the milk in the fridge until it is time to leave work. Use an esky or insulated bottle bag to keep it cool while you travel home. Put it in the fridge or freezer immediately upon arrival home. Don’t forget to label it!

Table 1 is a breastmilk storage guideline.

Table 1

Freshly expressed breastmilk (not frozen) Storage guidelines
Kept at room temperature at 26ºC or lower 6 to 8 hours
In the fridge at 4ºC or lower (preferably at back of fridge) Up to 3 days
In the fridge’s freezer drawer or compartment at -15ºC or lower Up to 2 weeks
In the freezer Up to 3 months
In a deep freezer, such as a chest freezer at -20ºC 6-12 months
Thawed breastmilk (was frozen) but not heated Storage Guidelines
At room temperature at 26ºC or lower Up to 4 hours
In the fridge, at the back Up to 24 hours

Sterilise breast milk bottles (or formula bottles) before putting the milk in. There are several ways to sterilise bottles:

  • By placing teats, bottles and other parts into boiled water for five minutes.
  • With an electric steriliser.
  • With a microwave steriliser.
  • With an antibacterial tablet.
  • By washing them in the dishwasher.

Bottles also need to be labelled correctly to avoid the baby receiving the incorrect milk, or incorrect amount of milk while in care. This can lead to serious illness.

Premixing formula

Formula preparation has lots of rules for parents to follow. These include:

  • Carefully following the preparation instructions as outlined on the label, as formula measurements vary between brands.
  • Using only cool, boiled water to prepare the formula.
  • Using only sterilised bottles.
  • Using only the correct amount of water and formula.
  • Testing the temperature before giving to baby.

But perhaps the most widely debated rule is: can you premix formula?

This is a question many parents have when feeding their baby formula.

While the short answer is ‘yes’, it is always preferable to prepare each bottle of formula as needed and feed baby immediately instead of premixing formula bottles.

In Australia, a quality childcare provider should be happy to make up a bottle of formula as needed, rather than asking a parent to bring it in premixed.

For parents who do need to premix formula, the formula:

  • Must be refrigerated within an hour of being made.
  • Should be placed at the back of the fridge and not the door. The back of the fridge is generally the coldest.
  • Must be used within 24 hours once made.
  • Must be discarded if not used. This includes formula the baby has left in the bottle.
  • Must be discarded if left at room temperature for an hour.

Be sure to speak to the childcare provider about these guidelines before the first day of care and before pre making a day’s worth of bottles.

Where possible, make each bottle fresh rather than premixing.

So what about mixing breast milk and formula? This is perfectly acceptable, and some women mix the two to help their baby get used to the taste of formula.

There are guidelines for doing this, including:

  • Preparing the formula as per the instructions on the label before mixing the breast milk.
  • Storing the mixed milk in the fridge only – do not freeze it.
  • Following the storage guidelines for premixed formula.
  • Discarding milk after 24 hours of being placed in the fridge or after one hour at room temperature.

Parents should NEVER use breastmilk in the place of cool, boiled water, or dilute formula or breast milk with extra water. This can make a baby very ill.

Baby bottle bag for daycare

A good quality bottle bag for daycare is a must. It should be big enough to hold all the bottles required, insulated and easy to carry while holding baby too.

An esky or cooler-style bag is an ideal option. They will fit plenty of bottles, plus a couple of freezer bricks.

Be sure to label the bottle bag, especially if it needs to be left at the childcare centre.

How to label bottles for daycare

It is vital for parents to clearly label bottles for daycare. This helps avoid confusion at the centre and helps avoid the staff giving a baby the wrong breast milk or formula.

A lactose intolerant baby or toddler, for example, provided with breast milk or formula containing lactose may become ill if they are given the wrong formula.

Be sure to label bottles properly, and ensuring childcare staff are aware of which bottles belong to which baby.

The best way to label baby bottles for daycare is with adhesive labels, as opposed to a marker pen, which can rub off in the wash.

Use a custom-made label with your child’s name on it, or use a label-maker.

They are readily available online, are dishwasher and steriliser safe and generally last a while before they need replacing.

Be sure to label breast milk bottles and formula bottles with your child’s full name to avoid confusion at the centre. Parents should also label lids and any other bottle parts, plus bottle bags.

In summary

Leaving your child in the hands of a stranger is stressful for any parent.

But with a bit of preparation, you can feel organised and less stressed about that first day of childcare. Vacancy.Care can’t take away all those feelings of guilt and worry, but we can assure you these feelings are so common among parents.

Do not worry, and certainly do not feel guilty. All parents have their reasons for choosing childcare and your child will have fun and make new friends in a safe environment.

Be organised and prepared, and take most of the stress out of starting childcare for both you and your child.